In the times before The Boil, I became an addict, and the blame lies firmly with my grandmothers. They knew it, and they fed my addiction.
Homemade cinnamon buns.
Thanks to their baking prowess, and sharing of recipes, my grandmas’ cinnamon buns became my favorite treat. Fortunately I wasn’t spoiled by them completely, as I typically could only enjoy them the occasions when I visited them (my mother did a very good job making them herself, but she wouldn’t make them for anything other than a special occasion because of the time they require to be made). Because those were my introduction to cinnamon buns, I compared all future offering to their recipe, and came to shun poor imitations.
To me, the bar was pretty reasonably set; all I wanted was a basic, simple cinnamon bun, nothing else, not even being warm was a requirement. Icing? SACRELIGIOUS! Nuts? You must be to think those texture ruining chunks are meant to be paired with cinnamon, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and simple bread. Raisins? Spare me the devil’s dried fruit. The inner child in me still rails against such offenses to the world’s best treat.
I don’t remember my first cinnamon bun, but I imagine it would have been served up to me along side a glass of milk in order to calm the hungry demon inside me after being cooped up for what seemed like endless hours in a sleeping bag in the back of my mother’s run down early model Honda Civic, safely stashed away for the journey across the prairies.
Eventually, it became a routine: we’d arrive, and I would be sent to the massive chest deep freeze to retrieve a bag of them (how I didn’t end up falling into one of these massive freezer chests and having the door slap shut on my ankles I don’t know, because I always had to push myself up on my arms and lean forward deep into the chest to retrieve them). Thawing was yet another challenge to an impatient child who had just survived the toils of a long journey, but fortunately convection ovens were something of a staple in small towns and farming homesteads.
Assembled around the arborite kitchen table, the adults would drink coffee so strong you could stand your spoon up in it, while I enjoyed a glass of milk. I would unroll the cinnamon bun a bit at time, enjoying the flavour coating each side of the oh so soft bread. I’d tune out, slowly unrolling the bun, taking small bites of each sweet strip, savoring each bite until I got to the heart of the bun and the centre of the flavour. The adults would catch up while laughing at the simple joy I got from my treat.
Inevitably, my grandmothers would send me home with frozen care packages with instructions to defrost them only when I needed a fix, uh, I mean treat. Those were sweet, well meaning and heartwarming thoughts, but those buns never stood a realistic chance of seeing the inside of a freezer, as I’d rip open that care package on the long road trip home back home in my mom’s Honda, or my my aunt’s fully loaded (and therefore in my young male mind, luxury) vehicle in my tween years, or eventually in my own trusty steed of a beater in my early twenties.
Endless summers were made sweeter, and while Christmases also came with the requisite spoiling of toys, and the essential socks, underwear and sweaters; the greatest prize of all was always those sweet sticky buns, made with genuine love.
Thanks to COVID and isolation-tight commencing this morning at 12:01am, I awoke to a not so unfamiliar routine, after nine months of isolation of some sort, what was I going to miss out on other than the option of going to a restaurant to dine out, or making a maddening trip to the mall?
This morning, however, my mind went to making the most of the new restrictions than I had months before, and I started thinking about making a batch for the COVID Christmas of 2020. After finding motivation to start the day, I searched for the recipe book I started to put together when I was 19 and nearing the point that I would leave home to strike out on my own. Discovering it, I was amused that in all of 12 years that had passed since the first and last entry, I only managed to add only four hand printed recipes to it (I had failed miserably in my attempt to mimic my mother’s recipe card treasure trove).
None of the recipes are particularly complex, and the cinnamon bun recipe was simpler than I remember, and made much easier thanks to my partner’s mixer (I felt ashamed for not following my grandmother’s arm strong approach to mixing dough). I prepared the yeast, mixed the wet ingredients, added the flower, mixed it, then let the dough rise. It had been nearly ten years since I last touched the recipe, but my partner’s helpful tips and a little muscle memory saved the day when I kneaded the dough back down to size.
As I toiled, my mind drifted to my grandmothers now long gone, my mother who followed them, my aunt who passed years later, and to my not so long departed father. Thinking of them brought me patience and love. Time flew by and before I knew it, the dough had risen to twice it’s starting size, and I got to work rolling out the dough, melting butter, spreading brown sugar, sprinkling with cinnamon, rolling the buns up, cutting, baking to golden brown, and then voila, perfection and extreme nostalgia levels unlocked (the house smelled gloriously familiar, and like the home of loved ones).
Those cinnamon buns are a part of my few, but cherished, family traditions; today I am glad to have made them, as I didn’t expect to remember all the good times and the ones I love and miss. They helped make me who I was, and I’m glad to have found a way that I can visit them all from time to time.
For those keeping score, it’s now 1-0 for me vs COVID Christmas.